A romantic triangle in 1898 ends with all three lovers dead. And their ghosts go on to kill people and drive them insane. It’s a comedy, don’t you know? The Spirit is Willing claimed in its advertising to “face the biggest problem of our times: the sex life of ghosts!” Yep, Bo Derek and Ghosts Can’t Do It (1989) was not the first. But Spirit was filmed in 1966, which means we’re in for a family-friendly look at the sex life of ghosts. Sort of like the way a triple murder is the foundation for a comedy.
I dimly remember a lot of movies from my youth. The Spirit is Willing was one of them. I probably saw it on TV sometime in the early 1970s. Somehow its treatment of ghost sex hung on with me. And now you’re getting clued into why this blog has the type of stories it has, eh? So when I had the chance, I sat down to watch it again for the first time in forty years, to see whether it was worth remembering. The answer? Maybe.
The movie itself, taken on its own merits as a B-comedy, is quite enjoyable. People with bad character traits get punished. Our put-upon teenage protagonist is eventually forgiven for the sins he didn’t commit. And his parents come out of it with their relationship presumably stronger than before. Even the ghosts do better, with the spurned lady getting a new lover. (That she has to kill someone to do this . . . eh, well, he’s quite an obnoxious bastard and deserves it.) John Astin does an amusing turn as a ridiculous psychiatrist. About the only person not to come out ahead is the librarian, a single woman lusting unsuccessfully after a man. It’s all family-friendly fun.
Hollywood in the 1960s had a problem. It wanted to portray sex, but couldn’t officially do so under the Hays Code, and the eventual solution, the rating system, wasn’t in place until 1968. So film makers tried to work around the letter of the Hays Code. Spirit is an example of how this was done. The married couple sleep in twin beds. However, the twin beds are immediately side-by-side, and the couple actually drag both their mattresses to the floor, side-by-side. Something more than sleep is going on there. Our teenage boy, instead of welcoming advances by two attractive girls, reacts in confused bewilderment. Yet it’s quite clear that the attractive female ghost successfully seduces him (off screen) near the end of the film. Happy birthday, Steve!
Apart from sex, the film’s an amusing period piece. Sid Caesar is the father, playing a neurotic pessimist who’s afraid he’s going to be fired. Vera Miles looks gorgeous as his wife, though her role is limited to making unsuccessful advances on her husband and getting insanely jealous over an imagined relationship between him and the librarian. Jill Townsend must have had some fun getting to play the sexpot librarian (yep, that idea goes back at least that far), as well as the librarian’s still lusty but not so forward younger flower child sister and the seductive ghost of the maid. Toss in 1960s cars, fashions, and prices. $300 for a car, anyone?
And the ghosts? They switch back and forth between being transparent images, poltergeists, and solid corporeal bodies (apparently). Do not look for consistency in their portrayal or any explanation for their varying natures. Just know that they want love and companionship, just as much as living people. And if they can’t get it from each other, they’re willing to find it among living people . . . sometimes by killing them!